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Table Tennis - What is Talent?

Have You Got What It Takes? And How Do You Prove It?


How many times have you heard other table tennis players saying that a fellow player has heaps of talent for the game? Or read on a forum that a professional table tennis like Jean-Michel Saive has no talent? Or thought to yourself that if you had Jan-Ove Waldner's talent, you would have been a better player than he is?

More than once or twice? I'm sure you have. But what exactly do we mean when we talk about talent? Are we all talking about the same thing? Or does talent mean different things to different people?

In this article, I'm going to start by stating what talent means to me. I'm then going to pose and answer a few of the questions that I've come across about talent in my 20 odd years of playing table tennis. Finally, I'll ask you, the reader, to feel free to put your own point of view across regarding your definition of talent and your own answers to the questions I have asked (or more questions as well, if you have thought of some more).

What is Talent? - Greg's Definition

So without further ado, here is Greg's Definition of Talent:

He who is on top has the most talent.

For me, that is pretty much it. At the end of the day, if you are the winner, you are the most talented overall.

Rubbish, you might be saying. I know plenty of talented players who aren't the best. They just don't work as hard as some of the other players I know.

And that is exactly my point - note that I did add that the winner is the most talented overall. For me, talent is more than just how easy you make the game look or much aptitude you have for hitting strokes - it is whether you can win. If you don't have the desire or ability to do the work to be the best, then you are missing a crucial part of your overall talent - the talent to do the hard yards and make the most of what you've got. If you are not the best, then you have got no way of proving that you have the most talent.

I've got one disclaimer to make - this is mainly talking about players with similar amounts of free time for table tennis - there is not much point taking a person working 40 hours a week to support his family and comparing him with a professional table tennis player - it's not a level comparison due to the extra training available to the professional.

What is Talent? - Other Definitions

I'll going to leave this space open for other definitions of talent. Feel free to email me with your definition, and I'll add it here for all to see (and agree with or ridicule, as the case may be!).

Justin Wheatley wrote:
My take on "talent":

In sports, relative to each given sport, talent is what you start with and skill is what you develop along the way. It's not the trait or characteristic that you're talking about (hand-eye coordination, etc) but whether you developed it or just have always been that way. For most people, their hand-eye coordination is relatively well-developed by the time they start playing a sport - it's a talent in that case. My case was different - I grew up with no depth perception on objects more than a few feet from my face- it wasn't until I was a teenager that corrective eyewear let me starting looking at moving objects with both eyes at the same time. It's taken a lot of time and practice to get my arms to respond to this new information. A skill developed in some other sport can be a talent for your new sport. A guy with no discernible abilities that translate to table tennis would have pretty much no talent, but a semi-professional tennis player would have a lot coming to the table regardless of how much he'd worked for those abilities.

At least that's how I use it. I'll use "skill" in other ways as well often generically as a synonym for "ability", but in this context, when I'm contrasting the two, I'll stick to the task-specific terminology.

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